Saturday, June 27, 2009

Miscellaneous meanderings

In my day job, I deal with web development projects that require us to achieve very high levels of Web Accessibility*.

More and more of our clients are wanting to be able to put videos on their websites and want to know what is involved in doing so whilst still maintaining Accessibility. One of the things that you need to do is to provide a transcript, so that those who cannot see can understand what is actually in said video.

However, some things are extremely difficult to describe. Let's take the song Daniel, by Bat For Lashes—simply because I discovered it a couple of days ago and really like it. I particularly like the video, which features some rather beautiful, if dark, imagery.


Watched it? Excellent. Now, here's the Wikipedia write-up of this video...
Directed by Johan Renck, the music video was shot in January 2009. The music video starts with Khan in a room, alone, singing the song; and when the chorus sets in, black-clad "shadow" figures come from out of the dark and start to dance with her. Later in the video, Khan appears driving a car, and while she's crying, the shadows start to get into the car and touch her and she tries to fight them off. When she almost gives up, a boy (Daniel) appears in the middle of the street, and so she stops the car, runs up to him and embraces him.

I can't help thinking that it doesn't quite do the video justice. I mean, this paragraph does kind of describe what's going on—although I think that the writer has rather missed the violence in the "dance"—but it just seems a bit... well... limp.

Of course, it doesn't help that the written word has to be Accessible too; any copy on your website should be comprehensible to someone with eleven years of formal state education—so you cannot use sentences of more than fifteen words, or words of more than three syllables. Meaning that, ironically, the word "accessible" is not actually Accessible (and neither is "comprehensible").

Presumably this point would not be quite so restrictive were the state not so absolutely fucking incapable of teaching people to read and write their own bloody language.

As a case in point, the word "despotic"—although of only three syllables—is presumably not Accessible since, apparently, A-level History students are unaware of its meaning, as Deogolwulf points out...
Some of our country’s “advanced”-level students of history have been complaining about a question which appeared in an examination: “How far do you agree that Hitler’s role 1933-45 was one of despotic tyranny?”. The phrase “despotic tyranny” has caused some upset...
...

Doubtless it is sometimes difficult to determine the meaning of the various usages of words and phrases. I, for instance, have trouble understanding what “advanced” means.

What is so distressing about this is not that A-level students might be ignorant of the word—although that is, frankly, pretty fucking pathetic—but that they are cheerfully whining like little bitches with a skinned knee—and simultaneously proclaiming their fucking ignorance from the rooftops. And Laban Tall agrees...
What's at once impressive, pathetic and sad are the self-righteous complaints of the students. Look and despair. These are next year's university intake. And I'm sure they have worked hard, and are no less bright than previous generations. I seem to remember that the Brave New educational world was going to be skills-based, not facts-based - that students would be 'taught to learn' and then they'd be self-powered, self-motivated learners, 'accessing and evaluating a range of sources' etc etc, instead of all that dull rote stuff, those dates and Kings and Queens. Yet here they are shouting 'it wasn't in the book'. Don't tell me that it was all a load of leftie cobblers dreamed up by the Institute of Education the month after some particularly good Colombian arrived ?

As Laban also points out, it was all of five years ago that Batshit Miliband was making grand claims for NuLabour's education strategy.
The "Blair generation" will be the best educated in history, the school standards minister, David Miliband, promised yesterday as he backed a drive to engage parents more in their children's education.

Like every other NuLabour initiative, it seems that the education promises were fruitless, PR-soundbite icing, layered on top of a cake made of bollocks, shit and empty spin.

Because here we are, five years later, with fucking A-Level students pig-ignorant of quite basic vocabulary—and feeling entitled to moan about it—when really they should shut the fuck up and accept that it was their lack of knowledge of a pretty basic word in their own language that has tripped them up. At the same time, these students' teachers should hang their heads—or themselves—in shame.

Having said all of that, I suppose that it is no coincidence that NuLabour is not keen on teaching students words like "despotic" and "tyranny": after all, as is proposed in 1984, if you remove the vocabulary to describe certain things then you remove the ability to think them...

* I know The Kitchen isn't very accessible—it's through lack of time rather than a lack of knowledge. The next template will be as Accessible as I can make it.

17 comments:

Martin said...

I just hunted down the facebook group. It consisted of a bunch of pictures of Hitler, obviously edited in MS Paint, and comments like:
Person 1- "Despotic tyranny" is a "specialist term"? Dear God, has it come to this?

Person 2 (student)- Michael, please don't interfere with things you don't fully understand

Good God.

Think This said...

I thank my parents every day that they were willing to pay twice for my education.

Roberto Brian Sarrionandia said...

The supreme irony is that it doesn't matter what the history question says, you *always* write the same essay. Or at least a damn similar one with some key words swapped around.

Kit said...

Not to be pedantic but isn't "despotic tyranny" a tautology. Surely "despotic" and "tyranny" are synonyms?

SaltedSlug said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SaltedSlug said...

This comment thread could easily devolve into ever increasing, pedantic cuntshness, but....

despotic = Adj
Tyranny = noun

surely?

And not really, it's possible to have a tyranny of nannying, hand wringing prodnoses as we are all painfully aware.

Diogenes said...

Since we are having a pedants parade, despotic tyranny is an egregious pleonasm but I imagine you would lose marks for pointing it out.

SaltedSlug said...

Not as many point as they should lose for not knowing either term.

The dull cunts.

Anonymous said...

"The "Blair generation" will be the best educated in history"

But he was right: when Labour talk about 'education' they mean 'indoctrinating kids to believe socialist bullshit', at which they've proven a great success.

There's a reason why the Communist Manifesto wanted 'free education for all children in public schools'... and it wasn't to raise them to be smart individuals who can think for themselves.

A-Level Student said...

Salted Slug;

Unfair. "egregious pleonasm" isn't in the text book and teacher doesn't know what it means either.

SaltedSlug said...

I had to look up 'pleonasm'.
Now that I have, I shall use it as often as possible. And I shall be known as a twat, oh yes.

Ian B said...

Surely "despotic" and "tyranny" are synonyms?

Not really, the progressivist (sorry for using that word again) ideal is "benign tyranny", modelled on the Port Sunlight/Bournville model.

Welcome to your eco-town rustically responsible housing unit, citizen. Your bicycle is provided. You will be very happy here. This is obligatory.

Cynical Libertarian said...

I have a similar anecdote of my own. After finishing my General Studies ‘social domain’ paper, which featured a question of the role of whips in our parliamentary democracy, I overheard one girl ask a fellow pupil “What is democracy?” I could scarcely believe what I had just heard and literally grimaced at the astounding ignorance shown by a fellow pupil. It may only have been a single isolated incident, but for an A level student attending one of the best non private colleges in the North West to show such ignorance over matters of fundamental importance to society was a truly depressing moment and a damning indictment of our education system.

Vince said...

As an A-level history student, I am pretty much as fed up of the general ignorance as you are. The fact is that the subject -is- being diluted, and extremely rapidly at that. The entire syllabus is just jumping through hoops, and I'm just about 100% fed up with the whole business.

If you want my personal opinion, the only A-level that's worth the name "Advanced" is the OCR Religious Studies A-level (out of the ones I'm studying anyway). The History A-level has pretty much put me off studying History for life.

Richard Allen said...

Fucking Hell.

I only studied history until the age of 14 and if I couldn't have given a decent answer to that question (at the age of 14) I hope someone would have beat the shit out of me for being a daft cunt.

J. Wibble said...

As someone who took them 3 years ago, I can quite conclusively state that almost all A-Levels consist of memorising the syllabus. ICT, for example, is frequently flagged as being difficult (in that only about 7% of people get an A as opposed to 25% over all subjects). The reason for this is that the papers are not necessarily marked by people who are actually required to know anything about IT, and thus will only give you marks if you write exactly, word for word, what is on the syllabus. It doesn't really surprise me that students would complain if there was a word on an exam paper that isn't in the syllabus, as they've been trained to treat the syllabus as the Bible and any dissention from the great word of OCR/AQA/Edexcel is met with similar horror and cries of heresy as an evolutionary biology class in Kansas.

My teachers knew this and were quite up-front about the whole thing - as they saw it, their job was to get us through the ridiculous charade of A-Levels in order to enable us to go to university and possibly have the opportunity to learn something worthwhile. This meant nobody in my school was under any illusion about the quality and standard of the 21st century A-Level - those certificates were seen as nothing more than entrance tickets to university. I hope those students have been similarly disillusioned as to the value of their qualifications, or they will be sorely disappointed in the future.

David Gillies said...

It's not just History. Out of morbid curiosity, I downloaded some specimen A-level Maths papers of recent vintage. The time allotted for the papers was two hours. I breezed through them in 25 minutes or so. The questions were, and I am not exaggerating, roughly what I would have expected to see on a Common Entrance exam 30 years ago. I was being taught matrix algebra and elementary trig at my prep school when I was ten or eleven. That, plus a vague smattering of calculus (almost all differential and not integral, let alone ODEs), was all one needed to get full marks on this travesty of an exam.